Governments bicker while time to act runs short

The world may be in great danger, but the annual summit of governments designed to progress a global agreement on climate change did very little to bring action.

December’s meeting in Poznan, Poland, was part of UN-sponsored discussions for a new international treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

A new agreement must be reached at the talks in Copenhagen at the end of this year. But no progress was made on the most fundamental issues, including the scale of emissions reductions each country will have to make.

According to Kate Horner, from Friends of the Earth US, “The distinct lack of achievement here in Poznan falls squarely on the shoulders of the rich industrialized … countries.”

“[They] have spent the majority of this precious negotiating time crafting get-out-clauses and offsetting schemes at the expense of genuine reductions.”

Carbon offsetting is an environmental accounting trick which allows polluters to pay others to reduce emissions on their behalf. But the overwhelming majority of these offsets are projects that would have happened anyway, so they result in no real reduction in pollution.

The offset programmes have been shown to be failures at reducing emissions—their only “benefit” is in allowing polluters to claim they have done their environmental duty.

Many countries used the excuse of waiting until Barack Obama was sworn in as the new US President. However, it is certainly possible that Obama’s rhetoric about reducing US greenhouse gases may come to nothing if the US Congress rejects his plans.

And it is clear that efforts to frustrate the necessary reduction targets were driven by each government’s desire not to harm their economic competitiveness.

Among the most recalcitrant in negotiations were Canada, which wants to mine its heavily polluting tar sands for energy, and Germany, which is worried about the threat to its manufacturing industries.

Australia, which was criticised for refusing to disclose its appallingly low emissions reduction targets until after the summit, is pursuing the same approach in order to protect polluting coal and other mining industries.

For any reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, industrialised countries like Australia must, by February 2009, commit to at least 40 per cent emission reductions by 2020.

As Kate Horner put it “We are not approaching a cliff; we are hanging dangerously over the edge”.

By Judy McVey


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